What is a Plant-Based Diet?
The simple answer, of course, is that you eat plants. You start to eliminate animals and (eventually) animal products like dairy and eggs.
The less simple answer is there is an abundance of plant foods that most people never eat, and eating a plant-based diet means you might widen the variety of foods you eat.
For example, some of my favorite foods include: tempeh, tofu, kale, broccoli, quinoa, ground flaxseeds, ground chia seeds, raw almonds and walnuts, raw almond butter, olive oil, all kinds of berries, figs, avocados, tomatoes, lentils, black beans, spirulina, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, almond milk, sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, mangoes, pineapple, garlic, chai tea, brown rice, rye bread, brown rice, steel-cut oats.
Since I went 100% plant-based (and being a vegetarian for 23 years I have only been truly plant based for the last 10 years and even vegan for a year), I’ve noticed a much higher sense of well-being overall, along with other health benefits. I also haven’t suffered from a protein shortage or calcium deficiency either, in case you’re one of the many who worry about this issue. In fact, I’ve built strength and muscle during this time.
With athletes, celebrities and even political figures going vegan, why not the rest of us? When we consider that animal production had led to more problems in our world than solutions, it just makes sense.
Animal foods are also more processed than even some of the more processed plant-based choices people avoid at the store. Considering that animals are living creatures just like you and me, it makes no sense for us to spend our money on an industry that causes them suffering, destroys the environment, and causes us health problems. As rates of cancer and diabetes increase, one has to wonder if this has to do with the animal pro- duction being higher than ever and fast food restaurants serving up more animal foods that are cheaper per meal than whole, plant-based meal offerings.
Though you and I can’t change this overnight, we can change our health by eating a plant-based diet. I’m under the belief that if more people chose the vegan route, they’d not only feel better, but animal production demand would significantly decrease.
A plant-based diet is more economical, especially if you eat in-season and eat local produce. Check out some of these health benefits of going getting plant-powered, and start eating more plants this week. By filling your plate up with the good stuff, there’s less room for the acidic animal foods that leave you sluggish and tired.
If I could make a single dietary recommendation to people looking to get healthier, it would be to move to a plant-based diet.
Eating plants has been the best change I’ve made in my diet — and I’ve made a bunch of them, from intermit- tent fasting to low-carb experiments to eating 6 meals a day to eating almost all protein to eliminating sugar (all at various times).
Plants have made me slimmer, healthier, stronger, more energetic — and have in- creased my life expectancy (more on all this below).
Of course, the diet is simple, but moving away from The Nutritional Plate to a plant based one isn’t always so simple for most people.
Changing your diet can be difficult, but in this guide I’ll share a bit about how to change, talk a bit about why, and what you might eat.
Why Should I Change?
There are a few important reasons to eat more plants:
The basis of this guide is health, and many people switch to eating plants because they want to lose weight, improve their heart health, stay healthy as they age, improve blood pressure or deal with diabetes. A plant-based diet has been shown to help with all of these things — if you also stay away from the processed foods. A diet of processed flour and sugar and fried foods isn’t healthy even if it’s all plants (more on this below). The healthiest populations in the world are plant based: the Okinawans (traditionally at almost all plants such as sweet potatoes, soybeans, lots of veggies, with a little fish and occasional pork), the Sardinians (beans & veggies, red wine, some cheese, meat only once a week), and the vegan Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California who are the longest-living Americans. Eating plants is the best thing you can do to rescue your risk of the leading causes of death.
Honestly, while this is very important to me, it’s probably the least important of the three reasons on this list (for me personally, that is). But it’s huge: the biggest way to reduce your carbon foot- print is to stop eating animal products — better than giving up a car (next best) or using less energy in your home or traveling by plane less or recycling or using solar energy or driving an electric car or buy- ing fewer things. The animals we raise for food production use a ton of resources, eat way more plants than we do (which in turn also require resources to be grown), give off huge amounts of planet-warming methane, breathe out a lot of carbon dioxide, and create a lot of pollution. This 2006 United Nations report concludes that “Livestock have a substantial impact on the world’s water, land and biodiversity resources and contribute significantly to climate change. Animal agriculture produces 18 percent of
the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalents), compared with 13.5 percent from all forms of transportation combined.” And it takes 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to make the beef for one hamburger, according to a recent report from the U.S. geological survey.
For me, this is the most important reason to move away from eating animals. I’ve talked a lot about compassion on this site, but by far the most cruel thing any of us does each day is consume animals (and their products). The cruelty that is perpetuated on these living, feeling, suffering beings on our behalf is enormous and undeniable.
If you don’t believe me, watch this video with Sir Paul McCartney or this video about pigs.
While I became vegan for health reasons, I stay plant based for reasons of compassion — wanting to reduce the suffering of other sentient beings.
But … if you don’t do it to avoid pollution, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, increased death rates, animal cruelty, global warming, deforestation, and higher costs … maybe weight loss would do it.
Vegetarians and vegans weigh less on average than meat eaters. That’s even after adjusting for things like fibre, alcohol, smoking … and calorie intake!
Half of Americans are obese, but vegans tend to be much less obese (with exceptions of course).
That said, just going vegan will not necessarily cause you to lose weight. You could easily eat a lot of sugar, white flour, fake meats and fried foods and gain weight. If you eat whole plant foods, you’re likely to lose weight. Plant foods, for starters, have pretty much no saturated fat, low calories and tons of fiber, while animal foods all have saturated fat, lots of calories and zero fiber.
But veganism doesn’t suit everybody, whereas being plant based can suit everybody.
It’s one of the most controversial topics in the yoga world: vegetarianism.
Some say you’re not truly practicing yoga if you eat meat; others say that not all body types can thrive on purely vegetarian diets.
Is there a definitive answer?
On any retreat, you’re bound to hear a lively discussion at the lunch table about whether or not yoga practi- tioners should eat meat. Neither side takes their position lightly. After all, yogis don’t do things without reason!
The vegetarians say that ahimsa, or the yogic practice of nonviolence, prevents them from eating animals because it’s violent to take the life of another living being. Vegetarians also say that meat-eating inhibits us from achieving deep states of meditation because it negatively affects the energy body.
The non-vegetarians are often practitioners who once tried to be vegetarian but didn’t feel healthy while on that diet. They say it made them feel ungrounded, and that it created conditions associated with vata imbal- ance (an ayurvedic term for too much wind and ether).
Let’s describe a little about this from an Ayurvedic point of view
Ayurvedic medicine — also known as Ayurveda — is one of the world’s oldest holistic (whole-body) healing systems. It was developed thousands of years ago in India.
It is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. The primary focus of Ayurvedic medicine is to promote good health, rather than fight disease. But treat- ments may be recommended for specific health problems.
Ayurveda is considered a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
According to Ayurvedic theory, everything in the universe — living or not — is connected. Good health is achieved when your mind, body, and spirit are in harmony with the universe. A disruption of this harmony can lead to poor health and sickness.
For followers of Ayurveda, anything that affects your physical, spiritual, or emotional well-being can cause you to be out of balance with the universe. Some things that can cause a disruption include:
• Genetic or birth defects
• Climate and seasonal changes
How your body works to keep you healthy and your unique physical and psychological characteristics combine to form your body’s constitution, or prakriti.
Your prakriti is believed to stay the same for your entire life.
However, how you digest food and eliminate waste can influence it.
Every person is made of a combination of five basic elements found in the universe:
• Space • Fire • Earth • Air • Water
These elements combine in the human body to form three life forces or energies, called doshas.
There are three doshas, as most yoga practitioners know: vata (air and space), pitta (fire and water), kapha (earth and water).
Vata is the most common root cause of imbalances that people are experiencing in the Western world. People who have a vata imbalance have a deep fear about scarcity and getting their needs met. They also have a lot of anxiety, restlessness, and stress.
Excess vata is a result of eating processed foods (which create a dramatic fluctuation of blood sugar) and living in a cultural and educational system that rewards people for overworking and sacrificing rest. The highly stim- ulated 24-7 world that we live in, which is a result of electric light and advanced technology, is also a major cause of vata imbalance. We create an artificial rhythm of sleeping and waking, so when the sun goes down it doesn’t mean anything and while technology has advanced to allow this kind of behavior our nervous systems are still catching up.
Kapha dosha always increases in response to vata. When people are under stress, they’ll often go for sugary fatty foods to temporarily calm down, which could mean sluggishness or weight gain in addition to vata symp- toms. The American diet, which is rich in fat and processed oil, can also lead directly to a kapha imbalance. When someone has a pure kapha imbalance, they are going to have excess phlegm or pus, excess fat, and puffiness. They may also feel apathetic, lazy, and tired a lot.
Meat, coffee, and alcohol—which are all taken in large amounts in the UK and US—will inflame pitta. But pitta is also inflamed, like vata, via a psychological influence. The survival of the fittest mentality is alive and well here. Will power, independence, and competition define the cultural narrative. This all increases pitta. Pitta comes with inflammation, acidity, burning, and a rise in levels of anger, arrogance, and hostility.
Though many people might benefit from some universal healing principles on some level, ultimately each of us requires individual treatment.
I wouldn’t necessarily prescribe meat as medicine for anybody. But of course, it’s not fair to consider any practice or lifestyle perfect for everybody. One of ayurveda’s mottos is “It depends.” One person’s medicine is another’s poison.
We humans are complicated creatures with complicated habits and processes. Though many people might ben- efit from some universal healing principles on some level, ultimately each of us requires individual treatment.
We need to be open to receive healing and grace as it presents itself to us.
I personally think that all humans can benefit from a vegan diet and that unless you are seeing significant issues in your health and have wholeheartedly adopted a whole food, plant based diet and supplemented sufficiently and this did not improve then and only then could introducing fish and organically sourced grass feed animal products into your diet.
I believe that some bodies may not thrive on a 100% vegan diet based on their doshas, blood type or body type and that is why I consider a Plant Based Diet the goal of all humans.
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